An eclec­tic al­pha­bet of chicken facts with a dif­fer­ence. Com­piler: Andy Cawthray

Your Chickens - - Contents -

‘P’ for pests


Rats can be a year-round is­sue, though win­ter sees them strug­gling for food and shel­ter, so they can seek out a cosy chicken run un­til the weather im­proves. Hav­ing rats move in is not a sign of poor hus­bandry, but it is poor hus­bandry not to deal with the prob­lem. Rats need three things: food, wa­ter and shel­ter; re­move at least one of these re­quire­ments and there’s a good chance of re­mov­ing the prob­lem. Don’t leave feed­ers out­side; ei­ther bring them in­doors or put them in­side the chicken coop at night. Empty the drinkers each night, and re­fill in the morn­ing. Fi­nally, raise the coop off the ground, if pos­si­ble by at least 15-20cm, to re­move the shel­ter op­tion (this has the bonus of pro­vid­ing out­door shel­ter for your chick­ens).


Crows are very in­tel­li­gent birds and they are not afraid to en­ter a chicken coop and help them­selves to the food and eggs in­side. A sim­ple way to stop this is to place a screen over the door of the pop­hole or en­trance to the nest box. The chick­ens will ap­pre­ci­ate the ad­di­tional dark­ness and pri­vacy when they are lay­ing; the crows, on the other hand, will be un­likely to en­ter. Cats and dogs can be a con­cern to a chicken keeper, and it is al­ways worth fa­mil­iaris­ing your other pets with your chick­ens where pos­si­ble. Cats will in­vari­ab­ley leave full­grown large fowl alone, though ban­tams and young grow­ers can be at risk from be­ing at­tacked and killed. Some dog breeds mix very well with chick­ens such as col­lies, and both species will hap­pily co-ex­ist, but some breeds of dog are a risk, such as ter­ri­ers. The chicken keeper will need to train the dog, though any dog that ex­presses an un­healthy in­ter­est in a flock of chick­ens should never be left alone with them.

If you do not have a dog, but have vis­i­tors who bring their

pet along and pro­claim ‘he’ll be fine around the chick­ens, he’s not both­ered by them’, po­litely point out that he might not be both­ered by the chick­ens but the chick­ens will be both­ered by him. If they are not fa­mil­iar with dogs, most chick­ens are in­tel­li­gent enough to view them as a preda­tor threat.


The red mite is a pest of the sum­mer months, and, while it may not be ac­tive dur­ing win­ter weather, be sure to still clean the coop thor­oughly. The mite feeds by suck­ing the blood from the chick­ens as they roost at night and their abil­ity to in­crease their num­bers rapidly can mean that the quan­tity of blood taken from a bird overnight can re­sult in anaemia and even death. It can sur­vive over six months without feed­ing, and, while a re­ally harsh win­ter may kill off adult mites, the eggs they laid late in the sum­mer will live on ready to hatch at the first signs of warm weather.

A sim­ple method of check­ing for red mite within a coop is to place a bunch of drink­ing straws at floor level in the cor­ner. Ev­ery week re­move the straws and blow through them into an empty jar. If mites are present in the house they will prob­a­bly have taken shel­ter in the drink­ing straws and will be seen crawl­ing around in the bot­tom of the jar.

An al­ter­na­tive is to place a piece of cor­ru­gated card again at floor level, with the cor­ru­gate side face down. In a sim­i­lar man­ner to with the drink­ing straws, if red mite is present it will take up res­i­dence in the cav­i­ties of the card­board.


A chicken with a sunken stance, along with a greasy ap­pear­ance to the feath­ers, sug­gests a pos­si­ble north­ern fowl mite (Or­nitho­nys-sus sylviarum) in­fes­ta­tion. Pick­ing up the chicken and part­ing the feath­ers at the base of the tail will usu­ally show the mite crawl­ing over the skin. Be­ware - it will also crawl on to the hand of the keeper, seek­ing it as a po­ten­tial host.

These mites be­come far more ac­tive dur­ing win­ter, as they pre­fer cooler cli­mates. Once they find a suit­able host bird they will mul­ti­ply at an alarm­ing rate. Like the sum­mer pest red mite, these are blood suck­ers, but, un­like red mite, these mites com­plete their en­tire life­cy­cle on the birds, and are far more ag­gres­sive, feed­ing around the clock. The greasy look of the feath­ers is caused by their fae­cal de­posits. The speed at which they re­pro­duce, cou­pled with their feed­ing habit means they are ca­pa­ble of killing a bird within a mat­ter of days if the in­fes­ta­tion isn’t dealt with.


A par­a­site-in­duced ill­ness that can be de­bil­i­tat­ing and fa­tal of­ten re­ferred to as ‘Cocci’. Young grow­ing stock will be ex­posed to the par­a­site (coc­cidia) at some point their lives, and they will usu­ally develop im­mu­nity, ei­ther be­cause the ex­po­sure is low level, or be­cause they have sur­vived the re­sult­ing ill­ness.

Ar­ti­fi­cially reared birds can be par­tic­u­larly at risk of con­tract­ing the con­di­tion when they are first put out­doors. The out­ward signs of the disease are a hunched, fluffed up bird with drooped wings; it can also present it­self as blood in the drop­pings of the bird, although this doesn’t al­ways oc­cur. The con­di­tion can be con­firmed by hav­ing a vet test fae­cal sam­ples, though a rapid re­sponse to tack­ling the prob­lem is re­quired as it can very quickly spread through­out the whole flock, as the in­fected drop­pings come into con­tact with un­in­fected birds. Keep­ing ground lit­ter dry and clean can help pre­vent its oc­cur­rence, but clean­ing with a suit­able par­a­sitic cleanser and oral med­i­ca­tion will be re­quired in the event of an out­break. Speed is of the essence when there is a coccidiosis out­break.


Chick­ens are no dif­fer­ent than most other crea­tures on the planet in that there are par­a­sitic worms that have evolved to ex­ploit them. The two groups that are sig­nif­i­cant to chick­ens are the flat­worms (ces­todes and trema­todes) and the round­worms (ne­ma­todes). Both of these worms live within the chicken, feed­ing off their host, and re­pro­duc­ing whilst pro­tected from the out­side world. This can re­duce the nu­tri­ent up­take of the chicken and dis­rupt its im­mune sys­tem by cre­at­ing an ad­di­tional bur­den. In most cases, chick­ens will develop a level of re­sis­tance to worm in­fec­tion, though if the flock is kept on the same area of land the worm count can in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly, and the flock can be­come heav­ily in­fested. Reg­u­lar, fre­quent worm­ing can be per­formed us­ing off-the-shelf poul­try worm­ers if move­ment to fresh ground is limited. Ad­di­tion­ally, a worm­ing in the spring and again in the au­tumn is ad­vis­able in all cases, in order to re­duce the risk of other dis­eases com­pro­mis­ing the flock.

ABOVE: A brown rat TOP RIGHT: A car­rion crow RIGHT: Mick snapped but no one got hurt

ABOVE: Red mite in the dust of a coop

BE­LOW LEFT: Short grass pre­ferred

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